First Rule of Resume Writing: Forget the Rules

forget-the-rulesI’m not a fan of the “MUST/MUST NOT” rules of resume writing. Most of us are familiar with the obvious ones: one page only, a certain font, a limited number of bullets, etc.

When I write a resume, in fact, each of my conversations with a new client concludes with me asking them what their initial expectations are for the final product – what would they like to see changed or improved about the document they’re working with? And more often than not, I get a response like this:

“I have no idea. I don’t know what employers are looking for.”

That is in part because “The Rules” continue to change; they become fluid again as soon as new technologies emerge, the way HR handles candidate acquisition and hiring changes, and with the type of information job seekers are looking to communicate. What we call “personal branding” alone has caused a major change in what we want to say, and how we say it.

And the end result?

Most Resume “Rules” are Antiquated

There are obvious standards of professionalism and presentation that will never go out of style: strong language, accurate grammar, clear and concise presentation and communication. Outside of that, hiring managers care more about what you have to say, versus whether you say it in one or two pages, in serif or sans-serif font, or whether you choose an “objective statement”, a “Summary of Skills” section, neither, or both.

Yes, there’s still a lot of noise out there about all the rules; a ton of blog posts and articles are written every week on this exact subject. I was recently quoted in one of those articles myself. But here is my stance:

Resume writing is less about rules, and more about impact.

Are you standing out? Is your message getting across? Are you demonstrating clear performance and fit? That’s your priority, not following the rules.

Resumes Are No Longer the Only Determinant

I disagree with anyone who says that video resumes, or any other kind of technology, (including LinkedIn), are replacing resumes these days. That will never happen, because that is simply not how HR operates. At some point, you are still evaluated based on your resume, regardless of how tech savvy or creative you were in getting the attention of the recruiter in the first place.

The difference today? The resume is no longer the only factor in how you are evaluated. 

Think of your job search in the sense of having a Personal Marketing Portfolio, or a portfolio of tools that helps you simply, directly, and clearly communicate your value to employers. This most certainly includes a well-constructed resume.

But it also includes items that acknowledge the other ways in which hiring managers are engaging with you and evaluating your potential: LinkedIn, social media, social proof, a blog, a collection of press mentions or presentations, a portfolio or website, your profile summaries, and all of the sharable and publicly-accessible content you put out there.

Think in Terms of Impact… And Not Right Versus Wrong

Nobody cares if your resume is two pages instead of one. One-page resumes should not be cramped, and two-page resumes should have enough information to cover a solid 1.5 to 2 pages. As long as it looks good, communicates the message effectively, and the way that you’ve chosen to layout the information on the page supports the content.

Similarly, it’s less important whether you use first person or third person voice, so long as you avoid pronouns. Avoid phrases that sound informal (“I worked at X Company for 3 years before I was promoted to General Director”), and keep in mind that the resume still follows a formal tone much like most business documents (“Recruited to support digital marketing efforts, earning a promotion to general manager within 3 years”).

Hiring managers don’t care about fonts, colors, or flashy design. You can choose interesting elements to give your resume a bit of color, an interesting design, and help it stand out and pop. But the rules on this are blurred, aside from the general principles of good information design. Don’t add any unnecessary visual elements that skew the flow of the document, distract the eye, or take away from the overall message.

Use Your Resume to Tell Your Story

In today’s world, branding is all about communicating who you are on paper, and it’s okay to add a little bit of personality!

Years ago, it was more about simply conveying that you can do the job. But in today’s market, that’s not enough; neither is a document that simply plays by the old antiquated rules of documentation.

Today, writing a resume less about a collection of bullets and paragraphs, and more about telling a story about what makes you unique and valuable to an organization!

Next time you sit down to rewrite your resume: forget the rules… and focus on impact.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Brooklyn Resume Studios.




DanaAbout the Author: Dana Leavy founded Aspyre Solutions, focusing on small business development and career consulting. Her mission is to support creative and socially-conscious small businesses, through career transition coaching and business consulting for creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

Dana has helped hundreds of professionals in advertising, marketing, design and other industries execute effective career plans to find and DO the work they are passionate about. She has presented seminars on navigating careers, transition and work-life balance to several colleges and universities, and her advice has been featured on MSN Careers, Fox Business News, NewsDay,, GlassDoor and Follow Dana on Twitter!



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